The drug we can’t live without

0000621 “Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”  I couldn’t agree more with Sidney Smith, an Anglican clergyman, who died in over a hundred and fifty years ago. And as far as I’m concerned it can’t be any old tea. And certainly not a tea-bag, a monstrous invention that I suspect is just tissue paper filled with tea-dust left in the bottom of the tea chest after my proper tea leaves have been packaged.

And for me the only tea worth drinking is Twining’s Lapsang Souchong. It comes from Fujian Province in China. According to the packet: “the delicious smoky flavour is produced by lying the leaves on bamboo trays, and allowing the smoke from pinewood to permeate through them”. Ah, so … other tea now tastes quite crude to me after years of drinking nothing but this brew.

Though the Twining family may be surprised to hear this, I always feel quite connected to them, as I had a great friend who was a Twining, and my former in-laws had lived in a rose- coloured, brick Georgian house built by Elizabeth Twining down by the River Thames. I spent a lot of time there in that beautiful house, very conscious of Elizabeth. The firm of Twinings has been selling tea for three hundred years from premises in The Strand in London, so when the latest head of the Twining family came out to NZ to talk tea, naturally I heeded his instructions on how to make it.

Always happy to take the least trouble, I was delighted to hear from him (on the radio) that we don’t need to heat the tea-pot –  swishing boiling water around the pot before putting the tea-leaves in. Previously it had been an essential part of the ritual of making a pot of tea. But my tea leaves now go into a cold tea-pot. I missed the rest of his talk so I don’t know whether he addressed the thorny problem of milk. To have or not to have – that is the question. Purists don’t. I’m not a purist. I’m a conservative who has had milk in my tea for more than seventy years.

There‘s a further twist to the milk problem – known as MIF. Legend has it (which is not always reliable) that the Royal family refer to people as MIF’s. But I don’t believe this snobbish canard. MIF means exactly that – milk in first. And this is what the late Nancy Mitford used to funningly call non-U.  (U meant upper class, and non-U the opposite!) Milk in first means you’re probably the sort of person who’d lift the port decanter and push it across the table instead of sliding it along clockwise around the table – horrors – or would say: ‘pleased to meet you,’ instead of:’ how do you do!’ – shudders!  Incredibly, when I grew up these snobbish rituals defined the man – or woman.

So for most of my life, I had put the tea in first. But the worm turned about fifteen years ago, when I discovered that the tea tastes much nicer when you do MIF ! This puts me firmly on the wrong side of the tracks – but the bonus is delicious tea.

If I’m offered a cup of tea that I know will not meet my impossible standards of taste and strength – other people’s tea is always too strong for me – I add sugar, and then it becomes something else. Tea out of a mug is not the same as tea out of a bone china flowered cup and saucer. I dread the day when I’m plonked in an old people’s home, and will have no lapsang souchong and no bone china tea-cup.

Life without tea is unthinkable. There was no bombing so bad in the Blitz, that you weren’t offered a cup of tea after it; no shortage of water in the Western desert so tight, that there wasn’t always enough for a pot of tea brewed by the tanks; no misery so deep that a cup of tea doesn’t at least give the sufferer a second’s respite; no cold so deep that a cup of hot tea doesn’t warm the innards;  no thirst so terrible in the tropics, that a cup of tea doesn’t quench it, and no morning in the office so boring that a cup of tea doesn’t briefly break the monotony .

I often jokingly use the poet Cowper’s delicious phrase: ‘the cup that cheers but doth not inebriate!’ My grandmother always had a trolley laid for such a cup – on a lace tea-cloth with two tea-cups and saucers, sugar pot and tea-spoons, and the milk jug covered with a crocheted lace doily weighted with coloured beads. (Milk that wasn’t mucked about with didn’t go sour like it does today!)

In her book ‘Urban Shaman’, American writer CE Murphy writes a delicious description of having a cup of tea: “In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

“In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea. I liked the Irish way better.”

She must have forgotten that the American way with tea is simply to toss it into Boston Harbour!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is the perfect cake to have with a cup of tea – if you’re not planning on cucumber sandwiches! It’s the classic French cake with equal quantities of everything. So it’s four eggs, and the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. You can halve the amounts for a smaller cake. Soften the butter, and beat it with the sugar – until it’s almost white and fluffy. Add the eggs whole, one at a time and beat. If it starts to look grainy, add a spoonful of sieved flour. When all the eggs are in, fold in the flour a spoonful at a time, using a metal spoon.

Add enough milk to make a soft smooth mixture which drops off the spoon. Stir in the grated rind of half a lemon. Gently push into a buttered cake tin, the base lined with greaseproof paper, and bake in a moderate oven around 180 degrees. Bake for fifty minutes … if it’s still soft and hissing, cook for another ten minutes.

Leave the cake in the tin for a few minutes, and then tip onto a rack to cool. I make a butter icing for this, soft butter, icing sugar and lemon juice and the other half of the grated lemon rind, all beaten together.
Food for Thought

Development cannot fly in the face of happiness; development should promote human happiness, love and human relati0ns between parents and children and friends. Life is the most important  treasure we have and when we fight, we must fight for human happiness.” Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay at the Rio Conference


.

Advertisements

66 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, food, great days, happiness, humour, life/style, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

66 responses to “The drug we can’t live without

  1. We have the same favorite! I’ll not drink tea if it’s not Lapsang Souchong.

    Like

  2. Even though I am not a tea drinker, I love the tea rituals you described and the ultimate “human happiness” it brings to you. 🙂

    Like

  3. This is a timely reminder to me as I sit in a cafe being revved up by the American alternative to tea: coffee, the louder brasher drug of choice for the fast lane! I must try that twinings… tomorrow! And there’s a nice floral teapot at the kaiwaka st John’s. .. Maybe I will buy it! So you see, you are changing lives!

    Like

    • Great to know that my little bit of fun is life-changing! I actually love coffee – at the right time – morning or evening, but never in the afternoon, and Never for early morning tea!!! I should go for the floral teapot before anyone else snaps it up !!!

      Like

  4. I think that I should give more thought to drinking tea! My good friend in Canada is always stopping for tea! I always loved the thought: “tea and crumpets!” I live in Wisconsin and my sister has every kind of flavored tea that exists! I just like “simple tea” with a dash of lemon and, of course, sugar!

    Like

    • Stopping for tea! that sounds a familiar phrase ! or the tea-break… do we say coffee break, or hot chocolate break !!!! Tea and crumpets sounds perfect for a cold winter’s day… tea and cucumber sandwiches on a hot summer’s day ! Isn’t it easy to get carried away with tea!!!

      Like

  5. Can’t live without my Earl Grey of herbal peach!

    Like

  6. Valerie,I could not agree with you more about how essential tea is! I am more of an Earl Grey girl myself, but have never tried milk first, although now I plan to do so. Thanks for the tip and the lovely read.

    Like

    • Hello Michele, It’s hilarious how all we tea- drinkers are coming out of the woodwork… yes, if I can’t get lapsang, I go for the fragrance of Earl Grey… when I was a girl, we just called them all China tea ! So glad you enjoyed the blog …

      Like

  7. Juliet

    What a delightful post about the pleasures of tea drinking. I now make green tea in a precise way, timing it for 3 minutes with my egg timer . . . I remember discovering Twinings when living in England – and Earl Grey. There’s a shop called Tea Total in Mt Eden which sells deliciously fragrant blends.

    Like

    • Hello Juliet – another tea- drinker ! Thank you for the tip about the Mt Eden shop… it would be there, home of all good and gourmet food since the refugees from Europe settled there just before WW11 !!! Lovely to hear from you…

      Like

  8. Oh yes, tea! Love it! My taste differs a little bit from yours (Fairtrade or Yorkshire Tea teabags in a pot or mug; milk in first *only* if the tea has already been brewed and the teabag removed) but the bottom line is, I drink tea like an Englishwoman. Which I am. When in the States or Canada, I’ve been asked whether I’m ill in response to my request for tea. Then I’ve been offered a selection of herbal ‘teas’ and another selection of flavoured (flavored) ‘black teas’. None of which is a proper cuppa. The lack of proper tea is one of the reasons I don’t like going abroad. Even within Britain, I sometimes pack teabags just in case there are none available.

    Like

  9. Omygoodness, what a place the world would be without tea! I volunteer at a lovely 17th century stately home on the Thames and the Duchess who lived there in the 1600s was one of the few people who could afford to be a tea drinker when it was first ‘discovered’ so there is a strong tradition of tea drinking at the house and the cafe does beautiful loose leaf tea. My favourite at the moment is one called Richmond Royal blend. It’s so good. This post has pleased me 🙂

    Like

    • I’ve racked my brains as to which stately home on the Thames you’re referring to… Ham House, Orleans House, York House???
      I’m sure there are others…
      So glad you enjoyed the post…

      Like

      • You’re first guess was correct. It’s Ham House 🙂

        Like

      • How fascinating… Elizabeth Twining’s House, Dial House is just across the river, where my in-laws lived over fifty years ago!
        In those days there was a ferry across to Ham House – actually a rowing boat – that had been there since the middle Ages.
        I used to walk my children in the pram up and down the riverside , almost to Richmond and back…
        The family still lived in Ham House back then – and they were a rum lot!

        Like

      • I can imagine! The National Trust took it over in 1948, I think. I would have loved to see it when it was still being lived in!

        Like

  10. What are you doing to me Valerie? Now I have to go to the shops and buy myself some of that tea. As always, a lovely read. 🙂

    Like

  11. First of all, I love the teapot in your photo. Second, whatever the tea, I must drink it from fine bone china. Sometimes I am a milk first person and sometimes not. On my kitchen wall I have a poster which reads “Unable to make a decision, Cecily made a cup of tea instead” and that sums up my life, and attitude to tea, completely 🙂 Enjoyed your post immensely. You may enjoy this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/31/tea-drink-alexander-mccall-smith in which one of my favourite teas is mentioned; Bush Tea. I am very addicted to that.

    Like

    • I LOve those Cecily tea cloths – I have one in my gift drawer waiting to go to the right person… actually a painter friend , which reads ‘ Cecily endeavoured to look knowingly at the painting’..
      Glad you liked the little antique Bavarian tea-pot, which has a story behind it,
      I read Alexander McCall- Smith immediately – typical of him and delightful on so many levels, thank you so much for pointing me in his direction… lovely man.. !

      Like

  12. In somepart of China, when you go for a meal in a restaurant, you will be asked “what kind of the tea would you like to drink” before anything else.

    Like

  13. I gather you are very proud to call yourself a tea snob 😀 – I think that the milk in first was originally done to protect the porcelain from producing those smaller than hairline cracklings rather than for the actual taste. Now of course I will have to try to taste the difference. Off grocery shopping today and I will be sure to buy some Twining’s Lapsang Souchong as I have yet to try it (for shame, for shame).
    Lovely post as usual Valerie. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. sip sip pinky up

    Like

    • Well I hadn’t thought of myself as a tea snob – just discriminating !!!!
      How interesting that that was the origin of MIF… because only those with means would have the porcelain to drink from….
      I’d forgotten about the genteel pinky !! you did make me laugh!!!
      And no dipping biscuits in the tea either!!!

      Like

  14. no more tea dust for me–I feel fully informed after reading this!

    Like

  15. I am not a tea drinker but I do drink coffee. I am as much of a perfectionist with my coffee. I always say it’s the ritual as much as the drink that makes it so relaxing. One time I was offered instant coffee. Horrors! (I wanted to be polite so I did drink it!)

    Like

    • And did you taste the dry cleaning fluid that it smells like… think that’s why it is instant coffee. something to do with the process!!!
      Yes, our little rituals matter don’t they !

      Like

  16. MIF has been my preferred method for drinking my (decaf) coffee for years, Valerie. It makes for a creamier, better integrated sip. Since caffeine makes me very ill, I’ve discovered the delights of South Africa’s rooibos red tea: it has a lovely robust flavor and no caffeine. I’ll have to give that tea cake recipe a go! xoxoM

    Like

    • I hadn’t thought of applying the same principle to coffee – but it makes sense, and I’ll have a go tomorrow at breakfast!
      South African red tea…. I’m learning so much about tea from everyone’s comments!!!

      Like

  17. Do you remember the pint white mug which you presented to the cookhouse cook to fill with a hot thick liquid Velladonna ? The same urns were used later on in years but this time coffee was offered as well as tea. It got to a stage where one was not quite sure what one was drinking. So it became a “toffee” break. Ralph xox 😀

    Like

    • Hello Ralph… I think your memories are more recent than mine… I resigned in 1963, and I think when I joined in 1957 we were probably still in the stone age, and had tin mugs! Your memories were delicious – a toffee break actually sounds rather attractive !!!..Valencia

      Like

  18. Brilliant quotation and one of my favourite cakes with my Granny’s way of calculating the weights – so easy to make more or less, sometimes with just one egg for just a few cup cakes to have with that wonderful cup of tea, Lady Grey is my favourite at the moment but I like a good (not strong) cup of Yorkshire tea first thing in the morning, always MIF!
    All the best to you 🙂

    Like

    • Hello Sally,
      What a great idea to make a small amount with one egg and the rest – I’d never thought of it. I’ve never heard of Yorkshire tea, though I lived there as a child. Another blogger mentioned it too… what is it?
      Yes, President Jose Mujica is one in a million, still using his ancient VW and living on his run-down farm instead of spending pointless millions on pomp and circumstance… Lovely to have your comments….

      Like

  19. Lovely post! And an even lovelier response from tea lovers the world over (I felt like yelling: Tea-drinkers of the world, unite!) Absolutely agree with you that tea is the drug we cannot live without. I’m going to try to get my hands on some of the Twinings Lapsong Suchong you recommend, and try MIF for my black teas. But my personal favorite is the pure oolong pearl variety from the Li Shan district in Taiwan. It’s worth a try if you can get it from Taiwan, where the domestic tea culture borders on fanatical. The first steep is strongest, with the 3rd or 4th steeps considered the best (subtle, sweet, honey-like and fruity.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oolong You can steep it more than 5 times if you have a high quality tea leaf.) Thanks for your post and may your next cuppa be delightful! 🙂

    Like

    • Great to hear from you, and wonderful information on the Taiwanese tea. I’ve learned so much from comments about tea, and yours is even more esoteric, and utterly fascinating…
      I shall think of you when I fill the next pot, and may yours be as comforting as mine !

      Like

  20. Amy

    I’m imaging you are offering me a cup of tea… “so long as it’s no trouble” 🙂

    Like

  21. Tomorrow I’m on the hunt for Lapsang Souchong! I hope I can find it.. I’ve never found “my” tea. Maybe this one……

    Like

    • Hello Kathie, after hearing from all the other tea-drinkers I can see that there may be more to life than Lapsang Souchong! Hope you find a tea you like to light up your days!!!

      Like

  22. I have one of those crocheted thingies with the beads, it was my great grandmothers and for some extraordinary reason i have carried it with me from house to house and country to country since my mother died and I swiped it from the drawer before the new wife moved in, it also sat on the milk jug in my mothers kitchen, plus another one for the sugar bowl. And a little beaded mat for the tea pot. The milk jug and the butter dish were absolutes for my mother, it was unthinkable to have a bottle of milk or sugar from a pack at tea time. A lovely essay Valerie and I promise NEVER to lift the port from the table again! c

    Like

  23. Hello Celi, Yes, I’d forgotten the tea stand.. I still have a china one, black with gold decoration. I use it to stand potted plants on !
    Yes, my stepmother was a fanatical butter dish and butter knife person, and every jam and marmalade had to be decanted into a glass dish with a spoon.. And talking of decanters – glad to hear you are mending your ways with the port !!!!.
    Lovely that you had time to read this blog, and glad you enjoyed it… .

    Like

  24. lucewriter

    Valerie, you are the 3rd person in the past month who has mentioned lapsang souchong, so on your recommendation, I am going to buy some and try it. The tea I buy is very disappointing, but then I usually use . . . tea bags. I’ve become too lazy. You have inspired me to take more care of my daily rituals.

    Like

  25. Sounds like synchronicity – you’re obviously meant to be drinking lapsang!
    I do hope Twinings decide to give me a commission for all these new lapsang souchong fans !!!

    Like

  26. I love that tea! I also enjoy almost all BLACK teas, not a fan of green or white but yummm Lapsan Souchong…perfect!

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Aha – another thing we share! I’m just off to make my last cup of the day and take it to bed with a book. The fire is dying down, and I can hear a stormy sea hurling itself onto the rocks below… the wind is rising, and the electric blanket will be heaven !!!!Love Valerie

      Like

  27. As always Valerie you cheer me. Being a Texan (you will shudder) I only know one kind of tea, Texas Sweet Tea. I was raised on it, boiled with simple syrup until it was nearly as dark as coffee. I am not a huge fan, but now and then it suits.

    My choice? Coffee, always coffee. Dark rich coffee. MIF (cream actually and preferably Italian Sweet if I can find it). Coffee made with a bit of Chicory. Always coffee. From morning to the minute I close my eyes.

    Like

    • Hello Val… Texas Sweet Tea… no, like so many other names in people’ comments, I hadn’t heard of that – boy am I on a steep learning curve about tea!!! Well, you make coffee sound poetic…I love it too, but only in the morning and evening … and the last drink at night ? Lapsang of course!!! I’ve tried MIF with my coffee today, and as you say, it’s good !!!

      Like

  28. You are so right, we all have our own tea rituals – it’s part of the joy of drinking tea, isn’t it? I agree, tea tastes so much better in a porcelain cup (many years ago I dated a Chinese man who scoffed at this and insisted tea had to be drunk in small – read ‘tiny’- clay-like cups, I never quite got used to this method….).

    I think I will have a cup of tea now, Darjeeling, no milk, no sugar.

    Like

    • Good to hear from you Letizia… hope you enjoyed your nice Darjeeling, in a porcelain cup of course…so many different makes of tea I’m learning about ! At least i’ve heard of Darjeeling !!!

      Like

  29. There is something about the rituals of tea that give a sense of connection and security. Whenever there was a celebration, we would have tea. Whenever there was a crisis, we would have tea. Whenever there was a good book to read, the tea would be ever close by. I drink tea without milk or sugar, but I am fascinated by the different ways to take tea.

    I have several books on the history of tea, but the one I enjoyed the most was “For All the Tea in China” by Sarah Rose. It tells about the adventures of Robert Fortune (of Key Garden fame) – I know that you would absolutely love reading the book. I was able to get a audio-book at the Vancouver Public Library. It reads like a spy thriller. Here is a short 1 minute overview.

    Like

  30. Thank you so much for including this little video clip Rebecca,
    definitely a must to read… am off to the village bookshop to order it after the weekend.
    You’re so right about the rituals of tea… the most elaborate being the Japanese Tea ceremony, which I’m so glad I’ve seen…
    and yet it’s our own personal rituals which are the most satisfying and life-sustaining…as you say…

    Like

  31. A little honey in mine, please and oh yes…I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award!

    Like

  32. I enjoyed the article but for me un petit noir s’il vous plait! 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s